Everton Club Focus - Sunderland the last side standing between Toffees and a Wembley derby
The week leading up to Everton’s FA Cup semi-final with Liverpool began on Saturday with a creditable 2-2 draw away to Norwich City, and continues on Monday as David Moyes’ side host Sunderland.
A congested fixture list is likely low on Moyes’ list of ideal circumstances to prepare for a Wembley Merseyside derby but a rousing performance and result against the Black Cats could act as a late boost to the players’ mood, if one were needed after a run of form that has taken the Toffees from 11th on Christmas Day to seventh on Easter Monday, picking up 24 points in the 16 games since the festive period, after taking 20 points in the 16 games before Christmas. Everton are buoyant at the moment and while it would take more than a negative result against Sunderland to fully erode that good feeling, three points that ensure Everton go into the semi-final above Liverpool would lift spirits even higher.
Nevertheless, Everton learned in the original FA Cup quarter-final with Sunderland that the Mackems cannot be taken lightly. But revisiting the opposition of one of Everton’s most stellar performances of the season, the quarter-final replay that booked the semi-final appearance, brings back happy memories for players and supporters alike. Everton to a man were superb at the Stadium of Light, thoroughly deserving to progress on the night after just about edging the first meeting at Goodison Park. But if there was to be a standout performer from that night the competition is fierce - Magaye Gueye for his unexpected contribution on the left wing, Nikica Jelavic for his deadly finish to score the first goal, or John Heitinga for his continued excellence in the centre of defence would be the leading contenders, but singling out anyone of the XI who beat Sunderland misses the point of what was so impressive about the performance - it was a complete team effort.
How many of the players who played last time out against Sunderland will play again on Monday remains to be seen, never mind how many of the side that drew with Norwich start again just days later. Changes for a second game in three days would always have been likely but Moyes may not want to risk some of his most important, less replaceable players. Marouane Fellaini started on the substitutes bench against Norwich so may start against Sunderland, while Steven Pienaar is cup-tied and so unavailable against Liverpool, leaving him almost certain to feature on Monday. Moyes will understandably want to feature his strongest team against Liverpool after making six changes when the sides met recently in the league, and would be forgiven if he took precautions with the likes of Jelavic, whose goals cannot be replaced by anyone else in the squad.
The balance between sending out a team competitive enough to face Sunderland but preserving the most important players to face Liverpool is one Moyes will endeavour to strike, but if the emphasis falls on the latter rather than the former there will be few complaints from a Goodison faithful who themselves have one eye on Wembley.
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